Black Star Riders, The Dead Daisies, Western Sand at Oxford O2 Academy

Monday 2nd December 2013

The greatest joy of my job is hearing a relatively small, unsigned band and realising they are awesome and then seeing them live and realising that there is no way they should be small and relatively unknown and the fact they haven’t been signed yet is because the people who should be paying attention have dropped the ball on this one. And then I get to tell everyone about how amazing they are. And feeling a *little* bit smug about it.  I have to say this is the only time I’ve ever been to a gig just for the first support act, and having never listened to anyone else on the billing.

So Western Sand. I reviewed their EP a few months back and rated it very highly indeed. So when I realised not only were they on tour, they were conveniently stopping off in my home town, I went along. It would be rude not to really.  These guys are so good it is RIDICULOUS. Honestly, I just don’t understand why they aren’t a) signed and b) ranking higher up the billings (more on that later). These guys play southern revival rock and they play it hard.

Western Sand. Photo Credit- Bernie G Photography

I’ve seen headliners with less energy and flair and these guys did not perform like a bottom of the bill band. Its a shame that most people seemed to turn up halfway through the The Dead Daisies set and so missed them . They were very well received by the crowd that was there though and they got grabbed outside at the end to sign CD’s – next time hopefully, they’ll remember to have a Sharpie each and not one between them!  These guys are bringing back rock guitar s- just picture every good things about the great rock band s- Skynyrd, Thin Lizzy etc and these guys have got it with a touch of very early Metallica. They are fast, they are fierce and Thor only knows why this is their first tour or why they’re self releasing EPs.  With tracks like Broken Bones and Welcome to the Badlands,  they’ve managed to capture everything that is great about southern rock without sounding derivative or like a poor mans Skynyrd  tribute band.  I’ll be honest and say that I am struck to raving about them, but they deserve it. Hopefully there will be an  album to follow next year with more touring.  Look, if you get the chance do yourselves a favour and go see them- they have something like 10 more dates left on this tour so go!

Sadly, being the first support act Western Sand’s set was very quickly over. And then I had to endure, and I do not use that word lightly, what seemed like hours, but was probably only 45 minutes or so of  The Dead Daisies. Now, I really like rock music, and these guys do blues infused southern rock  and their line up has a decent rock pedigree – members have been in Guns N’ Roses, INXS and The Rolling Stones. Rick gave them a great review, and a very respectable three stars, so I was expecting something pretty good. What I actually got was bored. Really, really bored. Then I gave up standing at the front and expecting it to get better and went and stood at the back with a pint until they went away. That’s never happened to me at a gig before. Ever.

There was a bit too much posturing on stage – great music should speak for itself and when bands get carried away in their music that’s great, but these guys looked like they were  trying a little bit too hard, which does distract from the music.  Sound-wise they are  very reminiscent of the Little Angels with some tracks reminiscent of a more elaborate Status Quo. I wasn’t really feeling it after the energy and fire of the Western Sand set.  On a positive note there was lots of new material played – fans can be pleased that a new album will be out next year.  Musically speaking these guys are ok,  stage-show wise, they are  not so good at all and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t  go and see them live on purpose.

After that I was pretty peeved and rather seriously debating going home. But Black Star Riders have got a core made up of Thin Lizzy players and a little birdy told me the set was likely to be pretty Thin Lizzy-heavy. I really like Thin Lizzy but I was 3 when Phil Lynnott died so I was never going to see the ‘real Thin Lizzy’. So I stayed and boy, am I glad I did – BSR might be ‘new’ with the just the one album to their name, but these guys have pedigree- specifically Alice Cooper, The Almight, Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake sort of pedigree, and are really Thin Lizzy minus Phil releasing new material.

Black Star Riders. Photo Credit Suzi H

Now of course they AREN’T Thin Lizzy because there’s no Phil Lynnott, but Ricky Warwick does an excellent job of the vocals and between Damon Johnson and Scot Gorham, they have that classic twin guitar sound covered (and Damon has very nice hair. I notice stuff like that). The set was a mix of new material – All Hell Breaks Loose, Bound for Glory and Kingdom of  the Lost all saw play and were both excellent and well received – Kingdom of the Lost is what happens when you take some good old fashioned Irish drinking songs and heavy rock them up.

And then there was the Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak was amazing, Don’t believe a word  had the entire crowd singing,  Southbound was well received and then of course they gave us exactly what we wanted – The Boys are Back in Town and Whisky in the Jar. Of course.  And it was amazing, and I had a little tear in my eye and screamed my heart out.

If you haven’t checked them out yet, and you like Thin Lizzy, go and get their album, and do honestly try and make one of the last few dates of this tour. Just, go and have a pint and buy some merch during the set in the middle. You won’t regret it – I  went for the support, and fell in love with the headliners.


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